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    Albany school district lays off several dozen teachers

     Dozens of teachers and staff of the Albany Unified School District will receive pink slips in the following week, another reminder of the toll the nation’s financial crisis is taking.

    Struggling to stave off the impact of the recession and California’s budget crisis, the Board of Education approved the layoffs Tuesday night.  Thirty-four teaching positions will be cut, effective with the new school year in September. Among them are six positions at the elementary schools, nine at the middle school, and 19 at the high school.

    This is on top of the 34 temporary teaching positions and three staff positions they agreed to cut last week. And more non-teaching staff positions are expected to be trimmed in the weeks ahead. 

    Amid all of the talk across the nation of stimulus money lifting communities out of recession and into recovery, small towns like Albany are grappling daily with the continuing effects of the U.S. economic downturn and California’s financial troubles. While Albany has high hopes that it will get a share of the stimulus money, in the short term the city and its residents are feeling more pinch and pain.

    “We worked very hard not to get here, ” said Superintendent Marla Stephenson at the Tuesday board meeting. But “due to unforseen dire economic circumstances”, the district had to lay off teachers right now.

    “It seems that we are dismantling the edcuation system we worked very hard to put together, ” said David Glasser, the board’s vice president.

    The positions eliminated reflect a broad array of electives, foreign language and advanced classes at the high school and middle school while the elementary schools will have fewer regular classroom teachers.

    Board President Jamie Calloway said the decisions were not easy.

    “There is not a single boardmember who wants to vote for this (layoff), ” Calloway said. “I think we all feel like we are drowning, and in these circumstances we do what we have to do. “

    The need to cut district spending arises from the State of California slashing $8.4 billion from education funding over the next 18 months, a decision legislators made as a way to shore up the state’s $42 billion budget deficit. In California, the bulk of school funding comes from the state, with the district receiving an amount corresponding with how many students it has and attendance. Many cities and districts supplement the state funding through local parcel taxes.

    The exact amount Albany will lose in state funding is not entirely clear but administrators estimate it will be around $2.2 million. That is the figure they used in deciding how many layoffs to make. If local school districts do not produce a balanced budget with a 3 percent reserve they risk being taken over by county administrators. AUSD was taken over by the county eight years ago and had to prove its ability to balance its own budget to regain autonomy.

    Since the vast majority, or 80 percent, of AUSD’s $35 million expenditure are personnel, most of the $2.2 million in cuts will be realized through layoffs. AUSD hires around 300 employees and spends an average of $70,000 in salary and benefits for a beginning teacher.

    Administrators and boardmembers have discussed the layoff issues at several meetings recently. Last week, the Board decided to lay off four district staff and terminate contracts with 38 temporary teachers. Then last night, it voted for the resolution of cutting 34 teaching positions.

    All the five boardmembers voted for the layoff resolution after expressing grief about doing so.

    “I don’t like it, ” said Boardmember Ron Rosenbaum. “But we have to take it.”

    Rosenbaum worked out a rich curriculum for students at the high school when he was the principal a few years ago.

    When the budget cut takes effect next September, class sizes for kindergarten through third grade children at the elementary schools will increase slightly to 22 students a classroom from 20 currently. Students at the middle school and the high school will have  fewer electives to choose from and may not be able to continue the foreign language they have been studying. Both  schools will likely cut the seventh period during which most students take electives. (Click here to see a complete list of class cutbacks on Page 62-63.)

    Assistant principals at the middle school, high school and Oceanview Elementary school were also cut or made into a halftime position. Several middle school teachers and parents said that eliminating the middle school assistant principal, who is the main person supervising students during lunch-time and handling disciplinary and safety issues throughout the day, could create a safety problem.

    Although specific positions have been identified for elimination, the board and administrators have yet to decide which individual teachers will be laid off. Those decisions will be based on their seniority and credentials.

    Next on the chopping block are non-teaching employees, including secretaries and custodians, which are slated to be cut at upcoming board meetings to meet the $2.2 million budget cut goal.

    Some teachers could be hired back if Albany gets a little share of the $787 billion federal stimulus money. Superintendent Stephenson had hoped at first to receive $500,000 from the stimulus package for the new school year. Then she lowered her expectation to $300,000 after Congress slashed school construction money from the original plan. Now she is not even sure she can count on the $300,000.

    “I keep hearing rumors that the governor has the right to possibly take the federal stimulus dollars to back-fill California’s deficit,” she said.

    Faced with mounting financial challenges, the board also decided to convene a committee to explore voters’ willingness to consider a new parcel tax. Boardmember Miriam Walden and David Glasser will lead the committee, which will survey residents and give recommendations to the board  in late April.

    Here are two earlier stories about the parcel tax idea:

    Parcel tax idea postponed
    School district considers emergency parcel tax and delaying pool bond

    Contact Miriam Walden at miriamwalden@hotmail.com  if you are interested in joining the committee.

    Article by Linjun Fan.

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